On The Road Again


Depending upon one’s perspective, driving long distances alone may be either beneficial or potentially destructive, given the long hours available for deep thought. I try to lessen its effects by listening to the unending hours of speculation on XM radio; however, that has only managed to have me probe more deeply into the depression I’ve suffered since the presidential election and its collateral damage.

My thoughts continually refer back to a previous blog I wrote, one in which I pointed out the differences between “ignorant”, “dumb”, and “stupid”. Most of what I’ve seen since that election falls into the realm of the latter and apparently seems to be taking on aspects of a snowball accumulating more volume while rolling downhill. Stupid is when reality is ignored in favor of what someone or some group would like to see, rather than what is.

During the past two months I’ve completed several trips, the first flying to Charlotte, NC, to visit my wife and watch our two older grandsons pursue their various athletic activities. Attending three basketball games and a swim meet were the high points; the low point was the gradual onset of tendinitis in my left Achilles tendon, causing some pain and limited mobility. Not wanting to spend a lot on a cane, as I have several back home, my wife and I went to a GoodWill Store to see if we could find an inexpensive example. Unfortunately, there were none, but my wife had the brilliant idea of using a golf club from among the large array reposing in a large tub on the sales floor. We selected a 4 iron, which seemed to be the appropriate length for my height, and I used its support throughout the remainder of my stay. I was not,  however, able to take it through security when boarding my flight home. If it were a real cane, then it would have passed through, but not as a golf club being used as a cane. Rules are rules. So I limped and suppressed any whimpering.

In the few days at home before leaving on my next trip, to Texas for a weekend of celebrating the birthdays of our two youngest grandkids, ages one and three, I spent time resting the leg and calculating whether I really could get a massage chair into the back of my Honda CR-V with the rear seats folded down. The big day finally arrived, the one in which I had arranged for two Mormon missionaries to help me get the 185 lb. chair into the car. They are required to do community help work along with their standard assignments, and are a great resource. We ultimately were successful in loading the chair, but not until we turned it upside down and attached it briefly to an extension cord in order to flatten it out a bit to get through the rear entrance. The chair, which I’ve had and used happily for several years but no longer provided the needed help, I was giving to my son and his wife, both of whom suffer from back injuries and accompanying pain. She was a member of the US Gymnastics Team at one time, and is now reaping the physical rewards of all those years of competition and injuries. he played football, basketball, and was a member of the 82nd Airborne, all sources of pain and suffering.

The trip down was highlighted by a stopover in Pueblo, Colorado, to visit my friends Molly and Joe  whom I had met during my year or so in Kemmerer, Wyoming, filling in as Special Education Director and Alternative High School Principal until a suitable replacement could be found. I had met Joe while playing golf at Fossil Island Golf Course, a name which caused me to have to explain to persons elsewhere that it was not a retirement community. His wife occasionally substituted in the schools, and both are highly intellectual apart from Joe’s commitment to golf. After his retirement from working at the local power plant, they had moved to Pueblo to escape the sometimes brutal Wyoming winters and had happily immersed themselves in several volunteer activities, Molly to a community soup kitchen and Joe to a sort of halfway house for persons undergoing significant psychiatric treatment.

Joe has sufficient expertise for his work, having himself been diagnosed (incorrectly as it turns out) schizophrenic early in life and having struggled through a variety of episodes including violence, incarceration, and institutionalization at varying periods in his life. He responded effectively through a combination of treatments and personal ability to overcome obstacles, to secure a degree from the University of Arizona and to write and publish a book, “Life Under A Cloud”, that details his lifelong search for security and peace of mind in spite of the issues which society heaps onto persons suffering mental hardships. I highly recommend the book ; it offers major insights into a world of pain and suffering but one which often is misunderstood and relegated to the backburners of treatment.

From Pueblo, I went on to Frisco, Texas, my destination, and arranged to collect my wife from the Dallas Airport. The weekend was spent helping host a birthday party for the two youngsters, the emphasis being on the one-year-old since her brother had already been recognized earlier in the month. Many friends of my son and his wife attended, along with their own collections of infants, toddlers, and older single digit youngsters. We were thus able to enjoy several  hours of entertainment similar to that which would come with cooking popcorn without using a lid, a complete absence of peace and quiet. At our ages, those are two cherished states only discovered after one reaches Medicare eligibility. The high point came with the presentation of the birthday cake and watching the guest of honor plunge her face into the generous layer of frosting once the candles were extinguished with the help of her brother. The family dog and cat were noticeably absent from the festivities, evidently feeling that there was more turmoil than necessary for the own peaceful existence.

We were able to return to our hotel for the balance of the evening, to rest for the next day’s additional birthday celebration; this time for one of the other youngsters who had attended “our” party. But this one was quite different; the parents had wisely booked a session at an emporium called “Jump it Up”, a collection of large scale inflated play areas including slides, Ninja courses, and other offerings requiring loud screams and squeals in order to participate. As I wandered about observing, I kept thinking I was looking at a high level Chucky Cheese operation which shares many of the same characteristics: lots of irritating noise and random chaos, activities focused on removing as much money as possible from patrons, and extruding an aura which I hope never to have to suffer again. The hour and a half ended with servings of ice cream and cake for the approximately 18-20 participants and everyone departed. And those wise parents enjoyed not having to clean up any large scale mess afterwards. Money well spent!

Later that evening back at my son’s home, we spent time chatting and said our goodbyes before heading back to the hotel; the next morning we departed for the airport for my wife’s early flight. After dropping her off, I headed up the interstate looking forward to a few restful days uninterrupted by intrusions into my normal reverie; however, before I had even traveled an hour I encountered a major traffic backup short of crossing the Red River into Oklahoma. No detour instructions were given, so I wandered east and west for an hour or so before I stopped at a farm implement store to ask directions. There, I found out that there had been a hazardous material spill on the bridge, and it would be quite a while before that route would be opened. I was offered two choices, one east about 30 miles before resuming my northern route, or west toward a familiar drive across the somewhat featureless plains of the Texas Panhandle through Amarillo and Raton, New Mexico, to Colorado. I chose that direction and headed out.

The rest of the trip home was uneventful, which is what wants when traveling, especially when flying. I managed to get to Casper, Wyoming early enough to get servicing done on my Honda CR-V which I had purchased new June 30, 2015. As I write, it now has 43,000 babied miles on it. I like to travel.

Well, a few days at home for laundry and reacquaintance with my blind cat Timothy, and off again, this time to work as a volunteer in the LPGA Founders Cup golf Tournament in Phoenix. This would be my second time doing so; I find that the women’s tournaments are a bit less intense than the men’s, and that they really seem to enjoy and support one another as the competition unfolds.

One of the benefits of this kind of volunteerism is that one’s travel expenses are tax deductible as long as it’s a charitable event, a great perk for the event’s sponsors as a way to lure the great number of volunteers necessary. This tournament only has about 800-900; the Wells Fargo men’s tournament I work in, in Charlotte, has over 2300! One can volunteer for most tournaments, needing only to get on the tourney’s website and enter the dropdown “volunteer” menu. It’s a good way to travel to neat places and that tax write off really helps. Be aware that you have to purchase an outfit, usually a shirt and hat, and the cost varies from $50-$150l depending upon the tournament. But your meals are taken care of, along with free tickets for the tournament and free parking. At this tournament, I had six tickets to give away. Usually, you are committed to work only three or four shifts during the seven day duration of activities beginning with practice rounds on Monday and ending with Sunday’s conclusion. A shift is generally about 6 hours and you can apply for morning or afternoon; at the same time there are lots of committees whose duties are described on the website and you are asked to identify your preferences.

At this tournament, I worked Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons, and could use my pass on the other days if I so chose. However, I wasn’t able to do much walking due to my uncooperative Achilles, and the unexpected heat wave of 90’s for this time of the year was highly enervating, so I did other activities along with Brad, my longtime friend and golf partner who lives in Phoenix and recently bought a new house. We played nine holes at rather shabby pitch-and-putt course, but again, my leg prevented doing any serious golfing which would normally be our major focus. Instead, I was introduced to my first pro hockey game although given their current level of success, some persons describe the Coyotes as less than professional level. Brad has two tickets to a select 20 games a season, and I really enjoyed the experience; it was much more exciting than those days I watched the Chicago Black Hawks on my 9-inch black and white tv back in the 60’s, when I worked in Gary, Indiana.

One of the other benefits of this trip was finally being able to try an In-and-Out Burger, one ballyhooed far and wide as the best of all burgers. And yes, I have to admit that it was very good, and enhanced by the relatively low price of $2.50 for a double burger. I understand that they are only available in California, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona; I consider this an un-American situation and hope that our new President does something about it. After all, it might be one thing that he’s capable of; so far I’m  not only unappreciative of his performance but genuinely depressed about the prospects for the future.

Upon leaving Phoenix, I headed 80 miles to Prescott to once again consider it as a location if I should ever decide to move from the comforts, and chilly winters, in Wyoming. Prescott is at an elevation of about 5000 feet and as so, enjoys four mild seasons significantly away from the brutal temperatures in southern Arizona during the summer. In fact, I understand that many Phoenix folks have “summer homes” in Prescott. On the other hand, it’s not as high as 7000’ Flagstaff, just 35 miles to the north and having a nickname, “The Snow Bowl” during the winter to attract skiers.

Prescott itself is an older community and characterized by a town square, trees and hills, actual neighborhoods, and all the marks of a settled community. At the same time, its nearby brethren of Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Dewey-Humboldt, and other small surrounding towns are quite different, each with its own unique character. To me, Prescott Valley is a sprawling, new area of malls, housing developments, traffic signals and tie-ups, and glitz. It seems very artificial, to me, and not a place in which I would be comfortable. About four years ago when I was thinking of moving there, I passed up a three bedroom, double garage five year old house for $79000, during the depression. Today it would probably be about $200,000, so there goes another one of those bad decisions. But I don’t think I would have found life to be as easy as it is here in little Thermopolis. More on that later.

I spent some time looking at available choices for rentals; there are in fact several beautiful complexes for low income retirees (max $25,000), and some others that retirees can buy into for $230,000 and then pay $3500/month for their meals and other expenses. Definitely not in my plans. I visited one 3-floor apartment building in the form of a square with an inner courtyard; it was mostly one bedroom apartments for $1500/ month, with great views if your apartment is on the outer side. Otherwise, you’re looking down into an inner courtyard containing a swimming pool and Jacuzzi. But the building itself was featureless; all the hallways were alike and blandly beige; you couldn’t distinguish one from another. And two rooms is too confining for my tastes.

After lunching on Sunday at a local golf course with my friend Ramona, a colleague from my Special Education days in Wyoming and who retired to Prescott several years ago, and looking at retirement lodging on Monday, I headed over to the gorgeous town of Sedona to spend the evening and overnight with my friend Rick, a retired urologist from Laramie-Steamboat Springs and his wife Jane, his former nurse. I cannot think of anywhere I’ve seen that’s more scenic than Sedona, and that includes having lived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, at the base of the Grand Teton. And according to real estate listings, the average house cost is about $450,000, indicating the level of home owner to be found there. My friends have a home high above the valley, with breathtaking views in many directions from their windows and the encircling balcony attached to their home. I took them to dine at a very nice local Mexican restaurant and limited the number of Margaritas they could consume, showing my concern for their health (and the amount of the check).

I headed out toward home early the next morning, and spent an enjoyable day passing through some of my favorite scenery including Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border. I always expect to see John Wayne come galloping through, or Chevy Chase on his Vacation jaunt in that station wagon with Imogene Coca tied to the roof, but not this time. Later in the day I passed through Moab, which during my first visits in the 60’s was a relatively small residential town informally attached to the successes of the major uranium strike nearby. I had friends who owned a “ranch” high up in Castle Valley on the flanks of the LaSal mountains, 27 miles from town; my wife and I had spent three days there when on our honeymoon. Nowadays, it’s booming mecca for 4-wheeling and mountain bike enthusiasts, and congested with motels, fast food, and jeep/bike rental depots. Surrounding scenery is spectacular, including Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park, but one of my favorite things is driving the River Road which is Utah Highway 128 and follows the Colorado River Canyon for about 30 miles toward Interstate 70 and Grand Junction, Colorado. Along the way, it passes below Castle Rock, the sandstone pillar that GM used to put Chevy’s on top of for their TV ads, and other rock formations of Priests and Nuns,  and Fisher Towers. Quite beautiful, but there are lots of curves.

Years ago, a group of my buddies and I took a raft down the Colorado River in this area; it was our first experience with rapids and I fell out the first time through. Since we didn’t hit anything because the water took us around the rocks, we spent some pleasant hours going through backwards, sideways, and any other way due to our inability to steer the bulky rubber raft.

After  spending the night in one of my favorite hotels, the America’s Best Family Value Inn in Grand Junction, I headed home. The hotel is one of a national chain of “budget” (cheap) such facilities; they are ones that have been retrieved from former quality establishments but which have outlived their glamour. The chain evidently allows local franchises; the buildings may or may not be refurbished, so that there is a wide variance among them as to their condition and amenities. I’ve stayed in this one on several occasions; it meets all of my requirements regarding cleanliness, comfort, condition, and price, putting it roughly at the level of a Comfort Inn or LaQuinta but for less money. I made It home in early afternoon, time enough to collect my mail at the post office, replenish groceries, and start the laundry. Altogether, a most enjoyable trip!

Earlier in this account of my saga, I mentioned I would comment some more about life in Thermopolis as compared with considering moving to a warmer clime. Well, that decision is far more complicated than one would initially assume. In the first place, living in Wyoming and in Thermopolis in particular for 45 years, establishes roots and routines that are difficult to shed, and which would present difficulty for someone of my advanced years (78) to recreate in a new environment. I know where to get my car repaired, who will do my indoor plumbing (yes, we have that in Wyoming!), who handles renewing my driver’s license, where to get lawn fertilizer, who can shovel my snow and mow my lawn when I’m not able, how does the Home Health Care service work, how often to use the fitness equipment at the rehab center and how my physical therapy fits in, what to do about transportation if I’m no longer mobile, and on and on. One sort of all-encompassing benefit is that many of the folks in charge of things were once students in my middle school, when I was the principal. I sometimes threaten to go back to the files and change their transcripts if I don’t get decent service, but so far haven’t needed to do so. Our tax preparer, a gal who was the star of our first 8th grade girls basketball team (I started girls’ athletics back in the 70’s) just came through with a healthy tax refund. Another former student, one who felt the sting of the paddle rather than staying after school, is doing pre-summer maintenance on my lawn mower. I needed some skin cancer follow up and called the doctor’s office; they got me in the same day just as all the other health services usually are able to do. That can’t be done in a larger community.

So you see, the elements of daily living are quite easy to access. Of course, there are some negatives; cardiologists, neurologists, dermatologists, and all the other ologists have their offices in Casper (120 miles), and Cody (80 miles), but come to our town or the one next door (35 miles) on a weekly basis although the option exists to travel to their towns if one so chooses. The latter is sometimes preferred in order to help the local economies in those locations. The closest Walmart is 55 miles from here, which many consider a benefit.

The closest semi-major airport is 120 miles away although there are smaller facilities closer in Cody, Riverton, and Worland. However, some of the smaller feeder airlines require passengers to wear a long silk scarf and leather helmet with goggles upon boarding. I use either United or Delta, from Casper and connect to hubs in Denver or Salt Lake City.

Locally, if I need transportation, bus service is available through the local Senior Citizens’ Center or the rehabilitation center, for a small fee or donation. The Foster Grandparents Program also has bus service for its volunteers. Very few larger communities can boast of such an array of options; in fact, several I contacted said that they used to have some but their grants ran out.

Then there are my activities. I’ve been on the Board at the Big Horn Basin Foundation, the educational arm of the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, and which has been rated the #1 such museum in the U.S. and #6 in the world. And we’re having a ground breaking this month to begin construction of an even larger center, more than twice the size and with many more specimens. Some of them are excavated locally in the hills adjoining the town to the south; our largest (106’ long) is from a site near Douglas, Wyoming where we have digging rights. I really enjoy going to the Center and sometimes just sitting and contemplating how such creatures could actually have roamed about this area, intimidating any other living objects that came across their path.

If I have aches and pains, we have what is allegedly the World’s Largest Mineral Hot Springs located in the State Park next to the town. A State-owned free bath house is maintained in accordance with the treaty signed with the Shoshone Indians in which the springs were turned over to the government with the understanding that their use would be free forever. The facility is maintained spotlessly, and is an attractive benefit to living here. It is joined by two commercial facilities also making use of the water, but having swimming pools, soaking pools, saunas, and long slides for its paying customers. One can buy an annual membership for about $120, to each of them.

I’m also a golfer, but less avid than in my younger years. Our nine-hole course is well-maintained and challenging, and costs $528 a year for a membership. No other costs are necessary unless one wants to put a privately-owned car in the storage building, which requires additional costs.

The cost of living in Wyoming is usually targeted as one of the top 3 least expensive states in which to live. That begins with no state income tax and is compounded with low property and sales taxes, gasoline taxes generally at or far below national averages, affordable utilities, and reasonable real estate costs. I’ve compared food costs with other places as I travel, they all seem to be about the same regardless of where one goes.

From all of this, you can see my difficulty in considering elsewhere to spend my later years. Of course, I would like to be much nearer to my family, particularly if residence in an institutional kind of facility lies in my future. Among the thoughts I entertain while driving on those long trips, the necessity to leave all of this behind overshadows many of my other concerns including the depression I think I’m suffering along with many of my far-flung friends about what appears to be the erosion of our beloved country.

Wyoming is somewhat unusual politically, it has been described as “the most Republican state” in the U.S. but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, I’m surrounded by mostly Republicans, but at the local and state level they tend to vote for the person and not for the party. In fact, during most of the 45 years I’ve lived here, we’ve had Democratic governors. Another fact is that Wyoming has the highest percentage of gun owners, per capita, but generally their use focuses on hunting and other sporting activities rather than shooting people. We must of course modify that a bit as Dick Cheney is also from Wyoming.

It appears that I’m leaning toward possibly becoming a “snowbird”, or at least some version of one. I’d like to spend time during the winter somewhere near Charlotte, NC, to watch my grandsons perform in their respective athletic events (basketball and competitive swimming) and spend more time with my wife and son. I’d like to do more visiting in Arizona during the winter; but during the summer to some traveling to the Northeastern area including New England and some Canadian Provinces including the Maritimes. The rest of the time I can enjoy the local benefits (next August the total eclipse of the sun will pass over our area, and I’m on the committee planning how to accommodate all the expected scientists and visitors) and entertain visiting friends. And there would be periodic trips to Texas, to watch my younger grandkids grow and mature and spend more time with my son and his wife.

And I can now turn my attention to considering a number of issues: Our President wants to shower the military with large amounts of money taken from most of the other areas of our government, in spite of the fact that I’ve not heard of the Chiefs of Staff requesting those additional funds. What is he planning to spend it on?

How much farther can his administration go in orders that go a long way toward handcuffing our agricultural and service industries, eliminating the progress we’ve made in attacking pollution and other environmental advances, abandoning all the essential elements of the humanities and the arts as a part of our cultural heritage, attacking and reducing the educational opportunities for our children; alienating our allies and escalating the potential for major military action against our foes, and other completely irrational actions. And it appears that he is joined in many of these efforts by the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate, the latter the primary criminal in denying the last nominee for the Supreme Court his day in the sun. And along with that, his declared opposition to allow anything our previous President proposed which was the major contributor to the current Congressional gridlock.

When I look at the minimizing of the Voter Rights Act, at Citizens United, at Republican state legislatures and their gerrymandering, at Congressional Republicans going against the great majority of people on issues such as gun control, abortion, LGBT rights, health concerns including insurance and Planned Parenthood, anti-Islamic overtures in immigration, I’M GENUINELY DISGUSTED AND WILL NEVER CONSIDER VOTING FOR ANOTHER REPUBLICAN FOR NATIONAL LEVEL OFFICE. We still haven’t gotten over the embarrassment of the Bush-Cheney years, and the economic and military mess they handed to Obama and which has grown due to the lack of cooperation of Republican Congressional perspectives.

Yes, I can accept the recent nomination of a Conservative to the Supreme Court; I don’t  know what my liberal friends expected. But it would seem that regardless of which conservative is nominated, all of them would share the same shortcomings so anathema  to liberals, progressives, and rational beings. We can only hope that the centrist Republican objections to the Trumps and their Mafia-like family business can only grow, and eliminate this cancer that is bent on destroying our country.

Always Be Happy          To Our Youth

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